Burns Night: A Night of All Things Scottish (shortbread recipes included!)

My Scottish heritage means the world to me. It started with a genealogy fascination, and then I had the chance to go to Scotland itself! I was seventeen and being in Scotland felt more like home than New England did. When I returned three years later, this time on my own, I was slightly worried that my enthusiasm and eagerness to be back in my “home away from home” might be the product of a first time trip out of the country and my teenage years. This was not the case for I was in love again, if not even more!


What I have learned over the years since is that a lot of people with Scottish heritage are just as enthusiastic as myself. There is a pride in culture, very similar to the same pride felt by those who still reside there. Perhaps it has to do with the mass forced exodus of the Highland Clearances that the Scots who were scattered far and wide held onto the memory of their homeland with a fierce love. Naturally this means there are many eager to observe Burns Night!


Coming down Ben Nevis in the Highlands of Scotland.

Actually, the celebration of Robert Burns’ life and poetry has been held around his birthday from not long after his death, which means over two hundred years! Some say this event is an “institution of Scottish life,” to give you an idea of just how important it is. There is much ritual and tradition involved, though each event may have its own twist.


Imagine, if you will, a gathering of friends and fellow enthusiasts. There is time to socialise, with conversation to whet your appetite for a sensational multi course meal. The haggis arrives in state, with the awesome accompaniment of bagpipes and the recitation of the bards own “Address to a Haggis”. An evening of entertainment follows with a long speech reflecting on the man of the evening, toasts of all sorts (with whiskey, of course), music, and poems.


Believe it or not, just such an evening of celebration can be found right here in our little corner of Vermont! MacLaomainn’s Scottish Pub in Chester, VT is holding a Burns Night Supper on the bard’s birthday, January 25th, complete with cocktail hour starting at 5:30PM, a five course meal beginning at 6:30PM, pipers, haggis, poems, whiskey toast, and much fun! The tickets are $55 and can only be purchased in advance so give them a call at (802) 875-6227 or visit them in person. To find out more about the pub, check out their website: MacLaomainn’s Scottish Pub.


If you would like to celebrate a little something Scottish at home, I gift you the traditional Scottish shortbread recipe of my great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Nelson, as well as my mother’s variant on the recipe. Both of them are delicious and very easy to make.


My great-great grandmother Elizabeth Nelson.

Traditional Shortbread


1 c. flour

Pinch each of baking powder & salt

¼ c. sugar

½ c. and 2 TB butter, softened


🍎 Preheat oven to 325℉

🍎 Combine dry ingredients.

🍎 Mix in butter until a soft dough forms.

🍎 Lightly flour fingers and press dough into an 8” circle on an ungreased pan. Crimp edges with a lightly floured fork.

🍎 Bake until the dough just sets and begins to color, about 20 minutes.

🍎 Cut into 8 or 16 wedges. A pizza wheel works exceptionally for this.

🍎 Let cool completely on pan.


Java Chocolate Chip Shortbread


½ c. and 2 TB butter, softened

1 ¼ c. flour

1 TB instant coffee granules (you can also use finely ground regular coffee, it will just  taste a little stronger.)

½ c. sugar

½ tsp. vanilla

½ c. chocolate chips


🍎 Preheat oven to 325 ℉

🍎 Beat together butter, flour, coffee, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.

🍎 Fold in chocolate chips. Use your hands!

🍎 Lightly flour fingers and press dough into an 8” circle on an ungreased pan.

🍎 Bake until the dough just sets and begins to color, about 20 minutes.

🍎 Cut into 8 or 16 wedges. A pizza wheel works exceptionally for this.

🍎 Let cool completely on pan.


I would like to leave you with one of my favorite Robert Burns poems. I like it, though it is not the happiest, because it acknowledges our disruption of nature with our humanely ways (even in 1785!) and it reminds me to consider my own actions and their consequences on the natural world. For translation of the Scots words check out this Robert Burns website.


To A Mouse (On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough)


Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!


I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!


Highlands of Scotland

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!


Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!


Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.


That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!


But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!


Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

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